Hotel MedSpa

Increasingly, the hospitality sector is offering medical spa services ranging from nonsurgical cosmetic procedures to concocting custom diets, anti-aging formulas and guest-specific vitamins.

Testing at the SHA Wellness Clinic in Alicante, Spain, which has more than 35 doctors on staff.

Testing at the SHA Wellness Clinic in Alicante, Spain, which has more than 35 doctors on staff.

Testing at the SHA Wellness Clinic in Alicante, Spain, which has more than 35 doctors on staff.

Testing at the SHA Wellness Clinic in Alicante, Spain, which has more than 35 doctors on staff.

Increasingly, the hospitality sector is offering medical spa services ranging from nonsurgical cosmetic procedures to concocting custom diets, anti-aging formulas and guest-specific vitamins.

By Christina Jelski

In recent years, some of the most buzzed-about trends in the wellness space have leaned toward the metaphysical, with everything from crystal healing to sound bathing to clairvoyant acupuncture popping up on spa menus around the world.

But even as these fringe modalities move further into the mainstream, the sector is simultaneously seeing a boom at the opposite end of the spectrum, with demand for medically based, science-backed treatments also surging among an increasingly discerning demographic of wellness-focused travelers.

According to Beth McGroarty, vice president of research at the Global Wellness Institute, hotels and resorts are taking note.

“I feel like nowadays there are as many shamans as there are spas,” McGroarty said jokingly. “I mean astrology, tarot, crystal healing, energy medicine, all this stuff is exploding. At the same time, there’s definitely a segment of people seeking a more traditional medical wellness as well as a segment seeking the best of both worlds. We’re now seeing resorts partnering with all kinds of medical specialists, including nutritionists, physical therapists, sleep doctors, gynecologists, hormonal specialists and others.”

This uptick in medical wellness interest comes as the broader medical spa sector enjoys breakneck growth. The American Med Spa Association (AmSpa) reports that the number of medical spas open in the U.S. has exploded over the past decade, growing from around 1,600 in 2010 to more than 6,500 last year, while annual industrywide revenue has jumped from just over $1 billion to approximately $10 billion over the same period. 

Cathy Christensen, AmSpa’s COO, said medical spas typically try to look and feel nonmedical.

“The industry is growing very quickly, at around 20% year over year in the U.S.,” she said. “And one thing medical spas have always tried to do is feel less medical. They don’t want to feel like a doctor’s office, necessarily. So it makes sense that we’re seeing more medical spas move into hospitality and particularly into higher-revenue properties.”

While Christensen acknowledged that determining exactly what makes a spa a medical spa can sometimes be “fluid,” AmSpa generally defines a medical spa as a venue with treatments that go beyond the epidermis.

“So, if that’s an IV, if that’s a deep chemical peel, if that’s a filler, anything like that, then we put you in the medical realm as opposed to being a traditional spa,” Christensen said.

Anne Dimon, president of the Wellness Tourism Association trade group, predicts that the travel sector will continue to see “medical facilities brush up closer to the hospitality industry,” with the association recently adding a Medical Wellness category to its membership network.

The association defines a Medical Wellness member as being a medical business that also offers “multiday retreats, programs and/or packages that are deemed to be more proactive or preventative than reactive.”

“For instance,” Dimon said, “retreats and programs for sleep, stress management, medical testing for the early detection and prevention of certain medical conditions” would qualify.

Linden Schaffer, founder and CEO of luxury wellness tour operator Pravassa, said such programs have been in hot demand among her client base. She cited growing interest in medical spa offerings such as comprehensive blood panels and gut-health programs.

“Taking dedicated time away to learn skills for your personal wellbeing is the new luxury, whether that means learning how to eat, how to sleep or how to use your energy for optimal health,” Schaffer said. “Our clients aren’t waiting until they get sick to think about their wellbeing but are looking for ways to proactively stay healthy.”

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A laboratory at Burgenstock Hotels & Resort’s Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence in Switzerland.

A laboratory at Burgenstock Hotels & Resort’s Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence in Switzerland.

The cardiology reception area at the Waldhotel.

The cardiology reception area at the Waldhotel.

The fitness lounge at the Nescens Spa at La Reserve Geneve. The medical spa concept has a long history in Europe.

The fitness lounge at the Nescens Spa at La Reserve Geneve. The medical spa concept has a long history in Europe.

A laboratory at Burgenstock Hotels & Resort’s Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence in Switzerland.

A laboratory at Burgenstock Hotels & Resort’s Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence in Switzerland.

The cardiology reception area at the Waldhotel.

The cardiology reception area at the Waldhotel.

The fitness lounge at the Nescens Spa at La Reserve Geneve. The medical spa concept has a long history in Europe.

The fitness lounge at the Nescens Spa at La Reserve Geneve. The medical spa concept has a long history in Europe.

The idea of resort-turned-comprehensive-medical-center, however, isn’t entirely new. 

In McGroarty’s view, “Europe’s wellness traditions have always been more integral, especially in northern Europe, like Switzerland or Germany. They have these major medical wellness destinations, with teams of doctors, everything from cardiologists to dentists, totally in conjunction with all other kinds of wellness.”

One of the most notable of these European vanguards is Burgenstock Hotels & Resort’s Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence in Switzerland.

Robert Herr, general manager of Burgenstock Hotels & Resort, said, “Waldhotel uses the scientific medical approach with modern technology and new methods that are proven to provide real health benefits.”

He added that the Waldhotel currently employs a team of 12 medical professionals, including, among others, internists, a cardiologist, a dentist and a urologist available on request.

Every wellness program at the Waldhotel Health & Medical Excellence starts with an in-depth medical checkup, including a consultation with the property’s medical director; a blood test; an abdominal ultrasound; biometry and body composition assessments; a pulmonary function test; and a mobility, stability and fitness analysis.

Programs are customized depending on the results of the checkup, with diet, exercise and spa treatments adapted to each guest’s needs. A checkup program with half board at the Waldhotel starts at around $3,800, with the average stay lasting a week. Accommodation costs are extra, and wellness add-ons such as a dental checkup or skin screening are also available.

In Alicante, Spain, the SHA Wellness Clinic has similarly sought to offer a comprehensive wellness approach, promising guests access to more than 300 treatments and a staff of more than 35 doctors.

Alejandro Bataller, vice president of SHA Wellness Clinic, said, “One of the many aspects that makes SHA unique is our comprehensive method that integrates the most effective and proven natural therapies, without neglecting the latest advances in Western medicine, particularly genetic and anti-aging medicine.”

Among the property’s newer treatment offerings are brain photobiomodulation, which Bataller called “a painless and noninvasive cognitive stimulation therapy,” and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, which aims to address the declining hormone levels that come with aging for men and women alike.

Anti-aging and preventative medicine are also a focus at Switzerland’s Nescens Spa at La Reserve Geneve, where guests can undergo genetic testing and medical checkups as well as receive personalized nutrition and weight-loss plans.

Nathalie Aubrun, Nescens brand director at La Reserve Geneve, said that “in the past year, we’ve noticed an increase in the number of guests interested in our healthier-living and better-aging method.”

“These guests are typically looking for a wellness retreat where they can meet with specialists in preventive medicine, nutrition and osteopathy to get a better understanding of how their way of living impacts their current health and emotional and physical well-being.”

A rendering of the reception area. Anantara has partnered with the Verita Healthcare Group on the centers.

A rendering of the reception area. Anantara has partnered with the Verita Healthcare Group on the centers.

A rendering of the reception area. Anantara has partnered with the Verita Healthcare Group on the centers.

Europe isn’t the only market where integrated medical resorts are growing in popularity. Late last year, Minor Hotels’ Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas announced a partnership with the Verita Healthcare Group, a Singapore-based company specializing in preventative and personalized medical care. As part of their collaboration, the two companies plan to open a network of integrated health centers, with the first expected to debut at the Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort in Thailand this May.

A rendering of the IV lounge at the Anantara River-side Bangkok Resort’s upcoming health center.

A rendering of the IV lounge at the Anantara River-side Bangkok Resort’s upcoming health center.

A rendering of the IV lounge at the Anantara River-side Bangkok Resort’s upcoming health center.

“The core pillar of Verita’s concept is based on diagnostics,” said Zoe Wall, director of Minor Hotels’ MSpa International. “Everything is personalized and customized.”

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A guest meets with a physician at the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa at the Trump National Doral Miami.

A guest meets with a physician at the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa at the Trump National Doral Miami.

The pool area at the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, which offers nonsurgical aesthetic procedures.

The pool area at the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, which offers nonsurgical aesthetic procedures.

A rendering of the SHA Wellness Clinic’s upcoming Mexico location, which is expected to open in Playa Mujeres in 2021.

A rendering of the SHA Wellness Clinic’s upcoming Mexico location, which is expected to open in Playa Mujeres in 2021.

At the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa, guests can participate in nutritional counseling sessions and cooking classes.

At the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa, guests can participate in nutritional counseling sessions and cooking classes.

A guest meets with a physician at the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa at the Trump National Doral Miami.

A guest meets with a physician at the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa at the Trump National Doral Miami.

The pool area at the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, which offers nonsurgical aesthetic procedures.

The pool area at the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, which offers nonsurgical aesthetic procedures.

A rendering of the SHA Wellness Clinic’s upcoming Mexico location, which is expected to open in Playa Mujeres in 2021.

A rendering of the SHA Wellness Clinic’s upcoming Mexico location, which is expected to open in Playa Mujeres in 2021.

At the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa, guests can participate in nutritional counseling sessions and cooking classes.

At the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa, guests can participate in nutritional counseling sessions and cooking classes.

For example, Wall said, the Verita Healthcare Group is developing a test that can help create customized vitamin supplements.

“Everyone wants to take vitamin C or B12, and there’s literally a pill for everything,” Wall said. “But those vitamins aren’t tailored to your DNA or your genetics. So Verita is finalizing a diagnostic test where you take a little pinprick of blood, run it through a machine, identify your body’s strengths and weaknesses and then, on the spot, can make your personalized supplements.”

According to the Global Wellness Institute’s McGroarty, leveraging medical advances like biomarker technology and genetic testing offers hospitality players a “smart model” for building loyalty.

“When a resort offers these tests and has doctors interpret the findings, it allows those doctors to prescribe what they should do, both at the resort and over time, as a lifestyle change,” she said, adding that such treatments increase the odds that a “guest is more likely to return.”

Prescribing a wellness plan has certainly boosted guest loyalty for the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa at the Trump National Doral Miami. The South Florida venue is known for its all-inclusive wellness programs, focused on helping guests address weight-related issues under the guidance of doctors, nutrition counselors and exercise physiologists.

Michael Malo, president of the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa, estimated that “of the people that come here at any one time, about 55% of them have been here before.

“We have a very high retention and return rate. They come back for additional education, but a lot of them come back simply because lifestyle changes aren’t the easiest thing in the world. Any diet is difficult to maintain, so we give them the opportunity to come back and, if they need it, get themselves back on track again.”

While not tied to physical health, nonsurgical aesthetic treatments — long a staple of the medical spa world — are also exploding in popularity across the wellness space. And while demand for fillers and injectables might seem at odds with today’s prevailing beauty ethos, which focuses primarily on clean, all-natural regimens, McGroarty views growing demand for cosmetic procedures as a product of the current wellness landscape.

“People are really obsessed with achieving that effortless, natural look, and cosmetic medical procedures actually eliminate the need for any cover-up or repair,” McGroarty said. “So, in a way, it’s sort of the flip side to the same coin.”

AmSpa’s Christensen echoed those sentiments, adding that any stigma that might have once been tied to aesthetic treatments is fading fast, thanks to celebrity and social media trends.

“I mean, honestly, the Kardashians are kind of like the patron saints of the medical device industry,” said Christensen, who estimates that the average age of those getting their first injectables is now around 23. 

“People aren’t scared to talk about cosmetic procedures anymore, and social media has made it much more acceptable,” she said. “The nurse practitioners and physicians who are excelling at this type of thing sometimes have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media; there’s a whole influencer community that has cropped up around the aesthetics space.”

Nonsurgical aesthetic procedures are among the specialties available at the Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, which last year tapped Dr. James Stern, head of the department of plastic surgery at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Fla., as its medical director. The property offers a wide range of noninvasive treatments, including chemical peels, injectables such as Botox and Jeuveau and Kybella, which removes fat under the chin.

“People want and expect to stay younger longer,” said Tammy Pahel, Carillon’s general manager and vice president of spa operations. “They also want to look younger longer, but they don’t want to necessarily go under the knife. So when they come to our resort and see we have all of these services, of course they want them. They’re here for a vacation, so why not?”

While not every hotel or resort will integrate medical offerings into their spa and wellness programs, it’s clear that further overlap between the hospitality and medical spheres is likely.

“In the U.S., in particular,” McGroarty said, “we’ve got this huge trend of money being consolidated at the top, and because of that and the nature of our insurance system, a lot of medicine has gone sort of concierge. So I think there’s a massive market for medical at the luxury level, and we’ll see more wellness resorts and five-star hotels offering a really interesting mix of integrative medical and beauty treatments.”

For many properties already in the mix, expansion is on the horizon. Anantara has said it plans to continue growing on the medical spa front, with two additional Verita Healthcare Group developments in the works, including a second hotel project in Bangkok and a “wellness village” elsewhere in Thailand.

Likewise, SHA Wellness Clinic has unveiled plans to bring one new resort each to the United Arab Emirates and Playa Mujeres in Mexico. 

“Traditional medicine has done amazing things, but it hasn’t done the best job with lifestyle change and that kind of support and coaching and one-on-one immersion that’s needed for that,” McGroarty said. “And I think that’s why this whole wellness travel industry has taken off. There’s a lot of opportunity for resorts to build smart partnerships with the right kinds of doctors, practitioners and nutritionists.”

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